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Science that's kid friendly

September 01, 2008|Robert Lloyd | Times Television Critic

A new toddler-aimed animated series from the Jim Henson Company and our own KCET “Sid the Science Kid” is on the whole a welcome proposition. Getting the small fry interested in how the world works, getting them started in rational rather than mag- ical thinking -- which rules the heads even of many of their parents -- seems a good thing.

The rest of the day provides fantasy enough. "Observe, compare, contrast, describe" is the method being sold, although this is what children do without necessarily having the words for it.

Sid is a kid who "wants to know everything about everything," and he has a family, friends and a teacher to aid and abet him in his quest. In Henson's Muppety way, they are not so much multiethnic as multicolored, like crayons, though the characters suggest a range of races. (People have purple hair here.)

Today's premiere episode, the single episode made available for review, concerns the usefulness of charts, not the most exciting way to begin, but a sensible enough place to ground a child in the scientific method. (Episode 2 will ask "How do rolie polies move?")

Says Teacher Susie, "When you count things and write them on a chart, you're collecting data."

"Ooooooo," say the kids, as if they have just seen a bunny turn green. "Data."

"It's fun to compare all the data in their cute little boxes," says Susie, a thought to brighten the lives of accountants everywhere.

They make a chart of the snacks they brought for lunch. Then there is a break for jokes: What do you call a chart about trains? A choo choo chart. What do you get when you make a chart about charts? Too many charts. (I would have said "a meta-chart," which is doubtless why I do not work in children's television.)

There is a lot of cartoon dancing. (These computer-animated puppet children can bust a move.) Teacher Susie will have a regular spot in which she sings; in the "chart" episode, it's a pretty solid pop song that sounds as if it might have come off a Mary Lou Lord album. ("I like checking out charts because charts rule / A chart is a handy dandy scientific tool").

Another segment is "Backseat Driving With Grandma," in which Grandma remembers how it was when she was a kid. "When I was a little girl, I had a chore chart," she says, the better to chart chores with.

Now, I know that this program isn't aimed at me and that I am a harsher critic than your average preschooler, except when it comes to certain vegetables. (There we can be equally harsh.)

But without suggesting that "Sid the Science Kid" won't do its job, I was a little disappointed, given its pedigree: I found it a little too cute and jolly and mild, without the redeeming snap of the best Henson shows, including "Sesame Street."

Notwithstanding the use of the proprietary Henson Digital Performance System, a motion-capture system that turns puppets manipulated in real time into animated cartoons, "Sid" has essentially the same, antiseptic, plasticized look of most such "three-dimensional" CGI animation.

In spite of their increased mobility, the cartoon characters are less expressive than Muppets, as if an injection of Botox were part of the conversion. Give me Cookie Monster any day.

That said, no harm will come to your child here, and there are things to learn in this world that Cookie Monster cannot teach you.



'Sid the Science Kid'

Where: KCET

When: 9 a.m. today

Rating: TV-Y (suitable for young children.)

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